THIR13EN GHOSTS (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence/Gore, Nudity and Some Language

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Directed by: Steve Beck

Written by: Robb White, Neal Marshall Stevens

Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, Rah Digga, F. Murray Abraham

William Castle was a connoisseur of campy horror gimmicks. This was a man who stuck joy buzzers underneath seats in order to convince his audience that a monster was loose in their movie theater and had death insurance policies in case one of his movies scared you…to death. He also had an inflatable skeleton wiz across the theater ceiling and let the audience “choose” the fate of the sadistic Mr. Sardonicus. In 1960’s 13 GHOSTS, William Castle provided each person in the screenings with a “ghost viewer” a special set of glasses that could add or remove the ghosts from the theater screen.

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Dark Castle is a studio that began by specializing in remaking two of William Castle’s biggest films. 1999’s underrated HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was a hit over that Halloween weekend. Two years later, they updated 13 GHOSTS into a gleefully cheesy and fun horror flick with really cool production values. The rest of the movie isn’t up to the superb level of the ghosts themselves and the great set design. This makes THIR13EN GHOSTS just okay entertainment that could have been a lot better.

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Arthur Kriticos, a father of two, is struggling with the loss of his wife, who died in the fire that took their home. To make do, he is living in a cramped apartment with his two kids (teenage girl and young son) and their annoying nanny (who really doesn’t serve a purpose at all). A lawyer unexpectedly shows up to inform the family that their long-lost uncle died and left a house in his will. This house is a glass plated construction in the middle of nowhere and harbors a deadly secret.

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Actually, it’s more like 13 undead secrets (see what I did there?). There are many tormented souls hidden in the basement and the house is actually a machine that unleashes these spirits one-by-one. Aided by a couple of psychics and using specialized glasses that reveal the unseen, Arthur and his family must find a way out of the house before they join the spirits in the afterlife.

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THIR13EN GHOSTS has some amazing production values. The set design is phenomenal and the look of the house, a literal place with glass walls, is wholly original. Then there are the spirits themselves. Instead of using cheapo transparent effects, the wise decision was made to cast the ghosts as real people in creative make-up designs. The look of each spirit is totally unique and very creepy. If you dig on the spirits, it’s also a good decision to watch the “Ghost Files” special feature on the DVD, which gives a cool background story for each individual.

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The script itself is a bit of a mess though. The dialogue is really cheesy too. There is more camp to be had here than actual scares. In this sense, THIR13EN GHOSTS is a fun time-waster that doesn’t do much in terms of terror, but is entertaining enough. Plot-holes litter the place like crazy, including the laughable idea of ghosts being frightened of flares.

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Then there’s Rah Digga. She’s a rapper turned movie star and THIR13EN GHOSTS was her debut. She’s every single bad stereotype that people associate with the black character in horror movies and amped up to 11. While none of the acting from anybody else is great (Matthew Lillard is annoying in places), Digga is the worst part of this entire movie. She’s annoying beyond belief and single-handedly ruins some of the potentially fun scenes. To add insult to injury, the film ends with her ranting and then a rap song over the credits….by her.

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THIR13EN GHOSTS is a guilty pleasure. It’s not a good movie and I am aware of this. There are definitely some really awful moments and one of the worst performances in the history of modern horror cinema. However, the special effects are good. There is some ghoulish entertainment to be had and it still remains a fun time, despite the major problems. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Grade: C+

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